President’s editorial: Good opportunity to show Sweden’s leadership

In a short space of time the COVID-19 pandemic shut down nations all around the world. People’s everyday lives were changed more or less overnight. Families suffered when their loved ones became ill. During this time, here in Sweden we were able to see many practical examples of solidarity among people, and an extremely rapid transition of workplaces to a digital existence.

We are now beginning to see glimpses of a return to a more normal life. But the new normal will not be like the old one – this crisis has brought about changes that will last. Many actors are doing their part by analysing the situation and suggesting how Sweden can emerge from the crisis. IVA is doing this through a project called “Sustainable New Start for Sweden”. Our point of departure for the project is that the significant challenges Sweden was facing before the pandemic are still with us. As we now do the necessary reboot of the economy, let us do it boldly with a focus on the reforms that were already planned in order to make Sweden stronger in the ever-intensifying international competition.

The most acute issue is, of course, how to help people who were furloughed or lost their jobs to find new employment. We need to quickly mobilise to train all those who need new skills. This crisis forced Sweden’s universities, vocational colleges and other education providers to find ways in just a couple of weeks to offer distance learning. Now they need to take all of the lessons learnt from the fast digitalisation with them to further raise the quality of education. We also need to quickly develop new types of supplementary education and training, and policies for life-long learning. Work groups within the Government’s strategic cooperation programme have already started working on this. The need for internship opportunities remains strong. Here at IVA we have a large pool of applicants to Jobbsprånget, a programme that places newcomers to Sweden with a university degree into internships, and to Tekniksprånget, which gives young people a chance to try the engineering profession.

In order to save the economy Sweden is now investing large amounts of public funds to manage the acute phase of the crisis. In the new IVA project we underscore the importance of investment in rebuilding being done in a way that helps us achieve our long-term sustainability goals. The ambitious vision of a fossil-free Sweden by 2045 is still a top priority. Let us build our future competitiveness by making all of our production climate neutral. Demand for climate-smart technology will be high in all parts of the world, and Sweden has had a strong foundation in this area for many years. A good example of Swedish technology development is the HYBRIT project for carbon-free steel production, with the potential to radically change a whole industry.

The transition will require significant investment in research and good collaboration between research and industry. For IVA it is natural to emphasise the need for knowledge to develop new technology as the foundation for new innovation. In past crises research funding has been cut in many countries. Rather than take that path, Sweden has instead increased research and education funding over the past decade. In the “Sustainable New Start for Sweden” project we will urge the Government to continue on this path and to ensure we maintain the good research climate that exists in this country.

In the autumn Minister for Research Matilda Ernkrans will present the next research policy bill, which will include innovation. This is a good opportunity for the Government to show that Sweden is a leading knowledge nation and that its position must be defended. Research is not only essential to solve the acute crisis but is also a necessary investment in the future.